Max’s story – Why Is He Still Here? book extracts

Description:

Why Is He Still Here?” is a memoir written by Max, a young autistic adult with a PDA profile. It’s a powerful insight into his experiences of the education system and gaming world. It's available in various formats including an audiobook, paperback and kindle edition.

We’re grateful to Max for allowing us to share some extracts from his book to help increase awareness and understanding, adding his powerful voice to the call for change. Extracts can’t convey the whole picture, for that you’d need to read the book, however we hope that this shorter ‘case study’ format will be useful too.

Whilst it’s a raw and challenging read, it’s an account that’s likely to resonate with many PDA young people and is a valuable learning tool for the adults around them.

The book documents misunderstanding and mistreatment within the education system, which is both shocking but also shockingly all too common. It highlights the lack of suitable educational provision for young people like Max and the difficulty of accessing alternative placements. Max paints a very vivid picture of his torturous sensory and social experience of school.

On a positive note, it also underlines the enormous benefit that committed and compassionate individuals within the wider system can make.

Max is brutally honest throughout the book about his own complex emotions and actions during times of heightened stress and emotional dysregulation. The contrast between these outward ‘behaviours’ and Max’s open and articulate analysis of himself and others is striking, and it’s an important reminder of the need to always look below the surface to understand what differences and difficulties underlie seemingly perplexing presentations.

Last but not least, Max gives us a unique understanding of the online gaming world, and the sense of refuge, purpose and agency this provided and the strong friendships it enabled him to forge.

FOR INFO: The names of schools and individuals have been changed in the book. Meadows and Portum are autism provisions within mainstream schools. Galactic Conquest is an online multiplayer game.

TRIGGER WARNINGS: “Why Is He Still Here?” contains swearing, details of mistreatment in education settings and accounts of aggression (including the threatened use of a knife) on and offline.

Sensory and social experiences at school

For Max, his wariness around other children starts at playgroup …

Aged three years old, I carefully observe my peers. One child glances at me. I’m sealed in stasis, armpits burning. Only discharged from bondage when he strikes an interest in Play-Doh. Back to the train track – my train track.

… and intensifies as he moves to primary school …

To get to class, we would trudge through a minefield of older children … Whoever was dropping me off would leave me in the playground. Most kids cried, but I was too busy inspecting every movement they made. Screams, giggles, crying. I would struggle to discern if any of these noises were hostile.

… when the taunting also starts …

But kids are intelligent, and I was the smallest in my class. Soon they realised I couldn’t climb, so tormenting me became a game. Say something unkind to Max, or invade his personal space. He will chase you. Run and laugh, then escape to the climbing frame, where he could never hope to reach you – for he is too weak.

Max describes the sensory distress from uniforms …

a shirt, which has a label cutting at your neck, trying to sever your head

… playgrounds …

Children whizzing by like bullets, their playful screams endless and deafening. Basketballs pulverised my face every other minute.

… and lessons …

Lessons were a barrage of boisterous chatter and never-ending work. Everywhere I set foot, teenagers rampaged, pushing each other, almost knocking me over. If this was education, I wanted absolutely no part in it.

He describes the primal fear of transitioning between lessons and running the gauntlet of the hallways …

A group of boys laughing and pushing each other around? I always ran the other way, not worth the risk. The stairs? Don’t stop, keep running. So why didn’t I use the empty hallways, the ones with fewer students around? Fewer students meant fewer staff. If one bad agitator caught me alone, God only knows what would transpire. On particularly busy days, I took the risk. I always checked twice behind me, then in front. One wrong step and I’d be in for years of bullying. Every transition involving the stairs left me panting, shaking and dripping with sweat. How many more times do I have to do this? Probably a thousand at least. I spent lessons living in fear, avoiding the gaze of my peers.

… some of the coping strategies he adopted …

By Christmas, I wore a coat and hoodie to school, and for that matter to just about everywhere else, except at home or in my grandparents’ flat. Rain or sweltering sunshine, I always concealed my face. It was an odd fashion choice that attracted strange looks, but I didn’t have to see them. In fact, I never had to make eye contact with anyone. I depended on my coat and hoodie for a sense of safety in what I perceived to be an unforgiving school. It also softened the blow when people bumped into me on the stairs.

… and that these experiences continued throughout his time at school …

I’d arrive late each morning, groggy, and full of angst, dropped against my will into a confined space with over fifty people to contend with. At this stage in my life, I wanted progression, not regression into the depths of sensory and emotional overload.

Insights into what may seem ‘perplexing’ behaviours

Max gives us important insights which help us to understand some of the complex feelings which underlie surface ‘behaviours’ which may be viewed as perplexing or challenging.

On adopting a ‘bad guy’ persona …

Revenge was something I enjoyed; I was good at it. The other children let things go; I didn’t. It was the only way to exert my will, to protect myself. I remember developing a “bad guy” persona and mentality. Like the ones you see on children’s cartoons, they only exist to cause trouble, nothing more. I saw the world in a similarly cartoonish light. The bad-guy me would do something “evil”. The “good” teachers were superheroes, locking me away where I belonged. I couldn’t see anything beyond that role; perhaps I was born to play it. Nothing else worked, and it did give me a sense of power. A fleeting yet cherished ecstasy.

Call my infant-self a hypocrite, but I also wanted to be friends with the other children. To put it bluntly, I craved what they had, yet voluntarily played the role of villain, this being birthday parties. Mum didn’t want me left out, so she hosted birthday parties for me. In response, a parent came up to me and Mum with their child in tow, ripping up the invitation in front of us.

Most experts who came to assess me dismissed everything as “behavioural”, i.e., the fault of my parents. I sat at the back of the class, having only one friend who played with me and even then less and less so. It seemed I was indeed the “bad guy”, yet I couldn’t understand why. Did the world just hate me? Nobody else behaved as I did – as my body did.

‘Dad, I want to be a normal boy,’ I said as we were driving home from school … Face squeezed against the window, taking in the music, I wondered why it seemed that the rest of the world hated me. Sadly, things would continue to spiral downward.

… and on using the “weird kid” persona as a form of masking …

I started referring to members of staff as animals or other objects. For example, I called my class teacher a clock. Most didn’t mind, and some even embraced it. I think I did this to disguise the environment I was in. Hiding behind the persona of “weird kid” was easier than confronting my anxieties.

Max highlights the impact of trauma and the importance of building a trusted relationship …

They had introduced me to a TA, Oliver. He took me to lessons or to get my lunch when Lucas and Arthur (Max’s usual TAs) weren’t available. I swore at him a lot, hardly spoke to him. He has to earn my respect. Oliver had done nothing wrong, but Susan had left me hollow. I found it difficult to trust another TA.

… how traumatic stress leads to hyper-vigilance …

I had some awareness of emotional fragility. If I went outside even to get a paper towel, I risked being exposed to a situation that would trigger immense anxiety. In the past, volatile emotions had led to dangerous actions. Like feeling the need to “protect myself” with a weapon.

… and the need for safety …

I didn’t stay in the Mondrian room (Max’s agreed retreat space at Portum) to get out of lessons and spend my time on recreation. It was the only place in school I could control; it served as a sanctuary and prevented my emotional immaturity from landing me in dangerous situations. Things weren’t much different at home. I spent all my time playing Galactic Conquest in my bedroom. I ate my meals there and only came out to use the toilet or take a bath. In primary school, staff forced me to be in a room by myself. Throughout adolescence, I opted for solitary occupancy of rooms just to feel safe. Unconsciously learnt behaviour perhaps? I’m not a psychiatrist, I couldn’t tell you.

He shares how he masked his vulnerabilities, and how his emotional fragility often presented as anything but …

I hated being reminded of my vulnerability, so much so it clouded my vision of people.

The (OT) exercises helped me, so why would I be embarrassed? Weakness or fear of weakness; I didn’t want to show I needed help.

The very thought of admitting vulnerability brought on an embarrassment that prevented me from ever vocalising my feelings. Though it hurt, I preferred to soldier on.

I knew it was wrong but couldn’t control myself. Emotion had taken over and self-control proved impossible.

These thoughts lurked in my subconscious, but I wasn’t emotionally mature enough to confront them.

Why do I keep f**king up? … From birth, a traitorous body had seen me mocked, vilified, or hunted. …. Does the world like shitting on me?

I didn’t apologise to Charlotte (Max’s headteacher, see episode mentioned below), guilt and embarrassment locked the words inside my head.

And that this led to burnout …

Year ten was a difficult time for me. I hated the boring work; I hated the crowded staircases and hallways. A lack of confidence and mounting pressures caused me to break down. Anger took over my rational mind, and I felt powerless to say anything. Yet I was also guilty, to the point of purposefully hurting myself, an act that I immediately regretted. During that time, I ignored the good things and didn’t ask for help.

Following a meltdown at school which involved the threatened use of a weapon, Max’s Dad emailed school, of which this is an extract:

On Friday the 21st of October, Max had a meltdown when you asked him to undertake an English mock exam. You handled the matter really well, but you were shocked at his language and how angry he became. Max couldn’t remember when we asked him. How could he? Cortisone ran riot and flooded his hippocampus. We have lived with Max’s meltdowns for years, and over the last few he’s become better at controlling himself. However, Max is complicated, and his PDA is always bubbling beneath the surface. Were his meltdowns caused by the pressure from a demanding routine of classes and GCSEs? Or was it the start of puberty? We can’t peer into his brain, but we can assume all the stress overwhelmed him. 

There is so much fear in Max still. The other week when we went to his feeding clinic and had lunch at a Carluccio’s restaurant, I asked Max if I could go to the toilet, but he wouldn’t let me leave him alone at the table. To feel safe, he had to accompany me. It’s a similar situation when leaving the house. He has to wear his coat and hood.  As for attending a class of 35 noisy and playful kids. Forget it, his fear and sensory difficulties won’t allow that. This isn’t an anxiety to be treated with drugs. Only through exposure and maturity will he improve. For him, showers are still intolerable, and cutting his food or brushing his teeth without help is impossible.

As Max grows older, and matures, he will be in a better place to achieve his potential. For now, he just needs time and a safe space to grow

And these are Max’s thoughts on this email …

The email held truths that I had tried to ignore for years. Confrontation was painful, and I lacked the emotional resilience to vocalise my feelings. I didn’t understand why I wore a coat and hood. I’d simply put it on one day and hadn’t had the confidence to take it off again. Many things were unclear, and I couldn’t envision a bright future. But if there was a button to fix my sensory issues, I would certainly have pressed it.

Misunderstanding from educational professionals leading to Max disengaging …

Max’s autism and co-occurring conditions were misunderstood in his early school years; due to the resulting lack of support he was often unable to participate, which in turn led to him disengaging ….

What was the point in participating? The teachers only seemed to provide fleeting acknowledgment and praise. Therefore, I sat isolated, reading whatever books I found.

As I took part less and less in classroom activities, I began doing my own. I read books, made rudimentary arts and crafts, and taught myself how to use scissors. My peers found these things and others straightforward, so I thought learning to do them would bring me closer to acceptance in school. But I’d soon discover that unlike my peers, I had to be inventive, and find strategies when my body refused to cooperate. Often, raw determination saw me through. Every achievement represented something I thought I’d never be able to do. My cheeks turned red with pride. I’d have to jump up and down, behaviour which the teachers responded to with shouting and scornful glares.

When support was provided, it often had the opposite effect to what was intended …

School became the Rainbow Room (Max’s retreat space at primary school). When I entered in the morning, two teachers escorted me there and back. The same went for home time. They sealed me in there for hours. Nobody came unless I cried until my throat pleaded for mercy. And the person who regularly came? She was my jailer, a teaching assistant or TA for short. Playing the role of jailer, she never let me out of her sight. Every time I ran out into the complex, she would shout, wrestle me to the floor, and pin me down with bulky objects, and all the while I wept and howled for dear life.

In the mainstream (senior) school, being with a TA painted a target on my back. Their presence meant the mainstream pupils knew I had “something wrong with me”. In my mind, (they) existed on two extremes. They either thought we were “retarded” or they patronised us out of fear of causing offence. Any alternative view was inconceivable to me.

A brief positive spell at Meadows, an autism provision linked to a mainstream junior school

Here a warm, human and flexible approach worked wonders for Max …

We’d build hobbyhorses, sing, and play with water and sand. One of our lessons was a trip to a café. They treated us to a meal and taught us how to order food. Meadows didn’t prioritise academia. Cultures, religious festivals, friendship. I suppose the Meadows staff wanted us to learn about the world first.

What was the consequence for inappropriate behaviour? If I hit someone, Ciandra (the headmistress) kept me in her office. When I calmed down, she only requested I apologise. ‘That’s it?’ I asked, lightly clasping my throat. ‘You’re not angry?’ ‘Tomorrow’s a new day,’ she replied. That was always her reply.

Nobody held anything over my head. I made a friend, a boy called Owen. ‘I can’t climb,’ I quavered. ‘It’s easy. Watch,” he replied. I copied his movements, scaling a climbing frame for the first time in my life. There was a slow, shaky smile on my face when I reached the top. Since that day, we’ve always been friends. Mum was on the brink of tears when she saw us.

Ciandra preferred birthday parties to shouting, hosting one for each child. I forged fresh memories every day. And “healthy eating”? Tossed out the window, as the staff treated us to all the confectionery items you can think of. If Ciandra didn’t have your favourite, she’d buy it. Even one of our rewards for good behaviour was a trip to the corner shop. Lunchtime was my favourite. Ciandra let me eat at the other computer in her office. She’d microwave my food, and I would enjoy internet access. YouTube, the 24 band Muse, LEGO forums. All revolutionary discoveries for a six-year-old.

Riley, a teaching assistant, worked with me. She put aside time to teach me computing and helped to foster a newfound love of writing stories. My reading skills improved dramatically. Every day, I was trying something different.

Sadly followed by shocking mistreatment and isolation when Max was ‘reintegrated’ into mainstream

Due to the progress Max made at Meadows, he was reintegrated into a mainstream provision and allocated a new TA, Susan.

Pitch-black darkness. They called it a sensory room but turning on the light switch almost blinded you. Padded white walls and a padded white floor. I may as well have worn a straitjacket. No hot, no cold, no time. Just me and the darkness until the light went on, with Susan (Max’s TA) outside the whole time. Scream, cry, kick the door. It didn’t matter. Susan remained in control. If she felt it necessary, I’d spend the whole of lunchtime in there. My food would be outside, and I’d watch through a tiny window as it grew cold. Other adults? She’d strike up a conversation with them, diverting their attention away from me. Why does she hate me? Sometimes, people forgot I was in there. It was hours, with just my thoughts and imagination for comfort. Swear in frustration? Sensory Room. Look at someone in an “unkind way”? Sensory Room. Any reason, any hour, any day. People knew the room existed, but assumed it was only ever used in “extreme circumstances”, and as an eight-year-old I didn’t have the capacity to argue that it was “used unfairly” in my case.

And whilst there were bruises and carpet burns on my legs and knees, the damage wasn’t intentionally caused by Susan. Rather it was the result of the resistance I put up in our almost daily conflict.

In a way, the Sensory Room was better than the playground, I preferred being alone with my thoughts to the unbearable chaos out there. For that reason, I’d purposefully cause escalations with Susan to avoid the playground.

It wasn’t just my body they held hostage. In the first weeks of term I bought in the book Holes, by Louis Sachar. If I was on “best behaviour”, Susan permitted fifteen minutes of reading time. If I wasn’t, she’d hide the book. I never brought in another after I finished with it. I feared she would steal them.

How had I got here? Why would they do this? If they had just paid attention, I wouldn’t have been there.

How the school system and curriculum often doesn’t work for young people like Max

Max talks about not seeing the point in much of school life and lessons …

Classes were “boring”. Why would I ever go to music to sing about smelly socks?

Why read the same book in English fifteen lessons in a row? Why suffer in textiles? With my motor skills, the fabrics were impossible to line up. In ICT, we only seemed to talk about eSafety. What was the purpose of it all? My schoolbag filled to the brim with books and stationery. A never-ending tale of boisterous teenagers and infinite subjects. Why bother with one essay when another comes along a second later? No end in sight, I couldn’t see the road of academia leading anywhere.

‘Get a job, go to university.’ They told me that was the end goal. ‘You’re wasting your brain.’ On what exactly? They weren’t the ones suffering infinite essays on subjects I saw no purpose in.

I didn’t do anything productive in school. I still didn’t see the purpose in academia. Why spend years of my life on Romeo and Juliet? How did it prove my intelligence? Galactic Conquest may have been virtual, but at least I felt like I was achieving things there and learning things I couldn’t in school.

Whatever impressive vocabulary I used, it wasn’t enough to mask my lack of understanding. The exam demanded strict adherence to a mark scheme I didn’t know.

… despite him wanting to engage …

In hindsight, if I’d found learning more enjoyable, I would have attended all my classes. I wanted to enjoy it, and that desire was the only reason I hadn’t given up completely. I had a glimmer of hope that a lesson would interest me.

In previous years, I had begun the term attending lessons. But after a few weeks, I’d collapse under the pressure. In short, self-fulfilling prophecy blocked any consistent academic effort.

All my life, I had tried to participate in academia, but it never brought me happiness or visible benefits. Galactic Conquest on the other hand did.

For quite a while, gaming (see next section) was Max’s sole focus, meaning that school became a “glorified babysitting service” and his TAs “had to negotiate if they wanted me to do any schoolwork.”

Max concludes …

School hadn’t been easy. From the moment I dragged my sleepless body out of bed, a parasite attached itself to me. For the entire day, it festered inside me, consuming every emotion but melancholy.

Gaming

Max spent many years immersed in the online gaming world of Galactic Conquest where he developed and led a guild called the Paladins.

Online gaming gave Max refuge and agency …

Everywhere in the real world seemed a danger zone. I sought refuge in the internet, a place without eye contact. Nobody pushes you, there are no narrow corridors. In the actual world, I was “Max”, the tiny boy concealed under a hood, fearing for his safety. On Galactic Conquest, I was the mighty warrior XMA24.

Adults told me, “Video games rot your brain.”; “It’s all a bunch of noise.” What did they know? I’d found empowerment, a place where I was happy. In real life, I couldn’t take “revenge” on Susan or stop the pushing and shoving on the stairs at school. In Galactic Conquest, my enemies fell.

Under my leadership, the Paladins prepared for anything, everything. In the middle of a noisy classroom, I drafted battle plans in my head. Upon returning home, I instructed my forces in newly devised strategies.

I confided in my large, rapidly growing empire. Over there, I was powerful and confident in myself. I gave over a thousand people something to believe in, and defeated those who wanted to destroy us.

… purpose …

Unlike school, there was an end goal, a purpose. Thrashed in the corridors at school but a warrior online, clad in yellow and white armour, destroying the enemy with my squad mates.

The Paladins was my greatest achievement, it gave me a reason to live. But how could an outsider understand its value?

My endgame was to become one of the most revered players in the game; to gain real power, an achievement I’d be proud of. Something worth living for. Finally, I had discovered one of my talents, gaining followers, rallying people to a cause. Leadership. I believed expanding upon it would make me more than a defenceless child cowering under a hood.

The pride of the Paladins brought a smile to my face. We had members in the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Belgium, and even far-away India. By this point, we’d fought highly skilled players and won … Easter holidays meant people would be on their computers more. A time for us to move towards my goal of becoming one of the most powerful players on Galactic Conquest. With help from my friends, I knew I’d achieve it. ‘You waste your brain,’ everyone told me; without GCSEs, how could the world measure my “intelligence”? Well, I’m using my brain here. I’d like to see Dad try leading the Paladins.

… and friendship …

The troops assigned to me became my close friends, Bradford943, Vish09, the list goes on. I’d found refuge, an escape from all the screaming in the school corridors. A place where I had power and people respected me, where I wasn’t just a little boy cowering behind a hood.

Later, at home, I logged on Galactic Conquest. Having people who understood and respected me stopped the tears. It was a nice thought, the Paladins assailing my tormentors. Were my power to extend into the real world, we’d guard Portum as we did our base and enforce “decency” on the stairs.

He explains why any attempts to stop him gaming would have backfired …

School and my parents feared I’d sink into a greater downward spiral. The laptop prevented that; taking it away would invoke resentment, and not a new found desire to attend my lessons.

Whilst Galactic Conquest was hugely beneficial for Max for a long time, ultimately he found it to be a microcosm of the ‘real’ world …

For me, exposure to hierarchy and betrayal didn’t come through the real world. I learnt my hardest lessons online.

Galactic Conquest, my sanctuary at home, was all I had to live for. But even there I was trading one battleground for another.

Life outside the game proved too difficult for me to handle. But eventually I realised that hiding from it was both unrealistic and unsustainable. Eventually, I lost passion for my empire, and things I loved started leaving me. People I loved started leaving me, everything collapsed right in front of my eyes. And I’d been too wrapped up in my ego to see the bigger picture.

Ever since leaving Galactic Conquest, I’d achieved non-virtual things and had experienced other sources of happiness. With maturity came a wider and wider world.

… and found other opportunities to use his digital skills …

I’d become community manager for a project recreating a closed children’s MMO (massively multiplayer online game), which without getting too technical was a manageable responsibility. One day when we completed our work, I hoped to share my involvement on a shiny CV.

Lucas, Max’s trusted TA, uses a gaming metaphor when chatting with Max about decisions he needs to make about his future …

It’s scary to think of the unknown, so learn about it. If you research your options, it won’t be as scary. And you’ll make a better-informed decision. It’s easy for me to say, “Do this, do that,” but in reality, it’s a million times more difficult. In life we always face change and challenges. It’s like a videogame, you start in a fun green-grass area and get comfortable. Then you move to another location. It is nice in the grass area but it’s not helping you level up anymore. You need to level up to progress in the game. That means eventually facing the final boss. Do you remember when you told me about your first day at Portum? You said it was so scary. But you met a lot of awesome people, and I think life is always like that. We cannot escape change, but it isn’t an enemy. It helps us level up and make new memories.

Personal growth

Faced with the prospect of having to leave Portum if he didn’t pass some GCSEs, Max decided to take on the challenge with 9 months to go …

Being removed from Portum was once a dark fantasy. Now I faced the choice of an inflexible college I’d never survive in or becoming a lost soul at home.

However, if I wanted to steer the ship towards becoming an independent adult, I’d need to make important decisions soon. So many of my peers were already condemned to staying at home. How could I avoid that fate? Where or how could I begin? Unable to make a choice, I stayed the course. In that time, I developed and learnt important skills with the help of those around me. I wasn’t obligated to attend lessons anymore; I spent more time with Jayden, with Lucas, and with other TAs I grew close to. I’d recovered from last year’s explosive events but time hadn’t stopped ticking. My ship was still on a collision course with an iceberg.

The decision faltered once or twice before I affirmed it. GCSEs in nine months wouldn’t be an easy task, nor an instant remedy. However, for my future and to make Lucas proud, I was willing to give it a go.

Inside my mind, I drew up the schematics of a plan, similar to the way I would on Galactic Conquest. To get into sixth form, I’d need to pass five GCSES in just nine months. With such limited time, spreading myself too thin was unaffordable. Thus, I chose to undertake three GCSES, all based on required workload and past success. Mathematics and English Literature were abandoned from the get-go. Which left me with Religious Education, Media and English Language. Three subjects instead of five eliminated much of the pressure. If possible, I’d spend most of my time out of the classroom. Stress had been a huge factor in the previous year’s “breakdown”, and I wasn’t keen to let it seep in again.

The approach I took to learning was rarely orthodox. Instead of slaving away at homework, I inspected the resources intended for teachers. My guiding motto was: “understand how it works or hit your head against the wall” – nobody could bring themselves to disagree. Ironically, the exam techniques I developed were methodological. I’d have exact sentence starters and an exact number of paragraphs. To prevent myself from feeling overwhelmed, I retained only the important information.

With Rosaline and Lily at my side, I had nothing to fear from exams. I’d practised with them for months and had developed a systematic approach to answering each question. A return of self-belief and confidence inspired me to remove my hood. On the day of the first exam, I took it off and never wore it outside again, (except for when it rained, of course). I was given an exam laptop to type my answers, and extra time alleviated any remaining pressure, albeit I’d often finish without making use of it.

It seemed hopeless, but when faced with an opportunity to prove myself, I took it. GCSEs are the first non-digital commitment I’ve ever made, and doing them in nine months is something I’m immensely proud of.

He also found that progress came in other areas too …

At my grandmother’s 80th birthday, I gave a speech in front of a crowd. Through sheer endurance, I learnt to tolerate water on my face in the shower.

Max’s growing maturity and self-awareness leads to self-acceptance and personal growth …

I thought I wanted to be like them, but now I realise that all I’ve ever wanted is to live my life as me.

There’s a lot of people outside my immediate family who I’m proud to call my friends. I used to think I’d be forever abnormal, that I didn’t have an identity or place in the world. You helped me see otherwise. I have my low moments, for sure, but on the whole I appreciate myself for who I am a lot more than I did.

There’s an elephant in the room with this book: autism. I didn’t write a whole lot about the condition, even though being diagnosed with it is what led me here. Thing is, I genuinely don’t view myself as an “autistic” or as part of some wider neurodiversity clan where our disabilities are superpowers. I view myself as Max Toper, and I don’t want to be anyone or anything else.

Beyond that, my next move in life’s game of chess wasn’t university. Rather, I wanted to take small steps in the right direction with the end goal of becoming an independent adult.

… and, importantly, this came in his own time and on his own terms …

Growth came from me as the individual

 

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